Organic Farming in India – Features, Benefits, Challenges, Initiatives

According to the World of Organic Agriculture 2018 report, India is the home to 30% of the total organic producers in the world. However, it accounts for just 2.59% of the total organic cultivation area. Also, at the same time, most of the organic farmers are suffering due to poor policies, rising input costs and limited market access. India’s large geographical area with a very large population holds huge potential in organic farming. Therefore, the government must take the necessary steps to promote it for a sustainable future.

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What is organic farming?

  • Organic Farming is defined as the production method that largely avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, genetically modified organisms and livestock food additives.
  • Organic farming, as much as possible, rely on crop rotations, use of crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, biofertilizers, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks and aspects of biological control to maintain soil fertility and tilth to supply plant nutrients and to control insects, weeds and other pests

What key features of organic farming?

  • It is highly dependent on nature-friendly techniques for farming. It is achieved by using farm agronomic, biological and mechanical methods without any synthetic farm inputs.
  • It enables the protection of the long term fertility of the soil by maintaining the organic matter and encouraging soil’s biological activities. It often involves vermiculture and vermicomposting.
  • The biological processes, driven by mycorrhiza, allow the nutrients to be naturally produced in soil throughout the growing season.
  • Legumes are grown for nitrogen fixation.
  • Natural insect predators are used to deal with certain pests that may harm the crops.
  • Crop rotation ensures the protection of insects and soil microbes from becoming extinct.
  • It does not make use of genetically engineered plants and animals.
  • Disease and pest resistant plants are generated through plant breeding rather than genetic engineering.

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What are the types of organic farming?

  • Pure organic farming involves the use of organic manures and biopesticides and completely rejects inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Integrated organic farming encompasses integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management. It is a type that involves the production of crops from natural resources, having complete nutritive value while protecting crops from pests.
  • Integration of different farming systems involves several other components of farming such as poultry, goat rearing, fishpond, mushroom production etc., along with organic farming.

What are the techniques used in organic farming?

  • Crop Rotation involves the growing of different kinds of crops within the same land, as per the different seasons, in a sequential manner.
  • Green manuring is the arable-farming practice in which undecomposed green material is incorporated into the soil to increase its immediate productivity. The green manure crops can be leguminous as well as non-leguminous. It is widely practised in Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
  • Biological Pest Control involves the use of natural predators to protect crops from pests and it is used as a substitute to inorganic pesticides.
  • Compost ensures the production of rich nutrients by recycling organic matters. It is used as fertilizers in organic farming.
  • Soil Management is one of the key aspects of organic farming. After one crop is grown and harvested, the soil loses most of its nutrients and fertility. In organic farming, soil management is the process of recharging the soil with necessary nutrient through natural means so that it remains fertile and nutrient-rich. Animal wastes are largely used during organic farming to recharge the soil nutrients because the bacteria present in the animal wastes help make the soil fertile again.
  • Weed removal is also one of the aspects of organic farming. Mulching and cutting or mowing are used for this purpose. Mulching is the technique wherein the farmers use plastic films or plant residue on the soil surface to stop the weeds from growing. Cutting or mowing involves the removal of weeds from the farms.

What are the advantages of organic farming?

  • Stability of soil fertility: In conventional agriculture, the soil loses its fertility following the crop harvest. Due to this fact, global fertilizer use has increased from 27.4 million tons (1959-60) to 143 million tons (1989-90) and it may reach to 208.0 million tons by 2020. The use of organic supplements can effectively reverse this trend. The organic supplements are easily colonised by microbes that can help stabilize soil fertility by improving decomposition, nitrogen fixation and reducing the nutrient loss of the soil. Also, the green manures can help mobilize nutrients, enhance growth-promoting substances, suppress soil-borne pathogens and support crops to out-compete weed and prevent soil erosion.
  • Conservation of biodiversity: The techniques used in organic farming allow for the enhancement of food resources, natural prey-predator relationships and bans the use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilizers that are harmful to nature.
  • Little need for energy: The conventional farming makes use of machinery, transport, production of chemical fertiliser, pesticides etc., that are highly dependent on fossil fuel energy which is costly and can harm the environment. The organic farming uses cattle manure, legumes etc., that requires little to no energy.
  • Economically sustainable: The conventional agricultural methods are based on the principle of diminishing returns and can cause long-term economic risks. Organic farming ensures consistent long-term returns with limited losses to both the economy and the environment.
  • It has a huge export potential as it adds value to the agricultural produce.
  • Cheaper: According to the study by the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, the cost of organic farming is 21% lesser than the conventional farming.
  • It is a labour-intensive and can help India solve the problem of the unemployment crisis.

What are the challenges of organic farming?

Insufficient Resources:

  • Livestock is vital for organic farming. Due to technological advancement, the livestock population has declined. Also, a large part of the rural population is still dependent on animal manure for domestic fuel needs. This limits the availability of the animal manure for agricultural use.
  • The stock of vermicompost, bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers in the local market is also insufficient to address the demands of the farmers leading to an increase in the risk to the agricultural sector.
  • Also, in India, most of the crop residues are removed for fodder and fuel. This has led to the failure of the mulch farming technique.

Certification:

  • Time lag during the conservation stage (3-years) is a huge loss of the small farmers. This has stopped them from adopting this practice.
  • Furthermore, certification is vital to authenticate the organic produce and to validate the price margin in the market.
  • The Director-General of Foreign Trade (India) permits the export of the organic produce only if these certificates are produced and processed under the valid certification process.
  • The lack of awareness and accessibility to this certification process has discouraged small farmers to adapt to organic farming practices.
  • To address these issues, training and institutional demonstrations along with fiscal incentives are provided by the government to promote organic farming among the small farm holders.
  • The cost of the certification is also costly, especially for individual farmers.

Social Acceptance:

  • Many of the small farm holders depend on government initiatives and are only opting for quicker return and profits.
  • Thus, they are apprehensive towards new techniques that are involved in organic farming.
  • Lack of knowledge is preventing the adoption of organic farming among the farming community.
  • Majority of the agro-research does not prioritise on the implementation of research outcomes at the farmer level.
  • The limited availability of practical guidelines, communication gap between farmers and researchers, absence of comprehensive approach for the integration of technological know-how and better marketing practices etc., are some of the challenges faced while promoting organic farming within the agricultural sector.

What is the Indian government doing to promote organic farming?

National Project on Organic Farming (NPOF):

  • Under this scheme, assistance up to 25% and 33% of fiscal expenditure up to the ceiling of Rs.40 lakhs and Rs.60 lakhs respectively is provided as a back-ended subsidy through NABARD for the establishment of bio-pesticide or bio-fertilizers production units and agro-waste compost production units.
  • The Indian government has been advocating for the integrated use of chemical fertilizers and organic manures including bio-fertilizers for increasing the production of major crops.

National Horticulture Mission (NHM) and National Horticulture Mission for the North East and Himalayan States (HMNEH):

  • Under these schemes, financial assistance is provided for setting up of vermicompost production units at 50% of the cost to a maximum of Rs.30,000 per beneficiary.
  • Additionally, financial assistance for obtaining certification at Rs.5 lakh for a group of farmers covering an area of 50 hectares is also provided by the government.

Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY):

  • Assistance for promoting organic farming on different components is also available under the RKVY with the approval of the State Level Sanctioning Committee.

National Food Security Mission (NFSM):

  • Under the NFSM on pulses, along with Accelerated Pulses Production Programme (A3P), assistance for popularising Rhizobium culture or Phosphate Solubilising bacteria to the farmers under the cluster demonstrations is available.

Promoting the use of Bio-fertilizers:

  • The Central government had brought biofertilizers like Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azospirillum, Acetobacter, PSB, KMB, Zinc Solubilizing bacteria under Fertilizer Control Order.
  • Under the Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion (INSIMP) Programme, phosphate Solubilising Bacteria/Azotobacter culture is provided to the farmers as part of a technology demonstration.
  • Furthermore, the financial assistance of Rs.500 per hectare is provided to promote the use of organic manure under the National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility (NPMSH&F).

ICAR and organic farming:

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) had implemented the All India Network Project on Soil Biodiversity-Biofertilizers for promoting research and development on biofertilizers.
  • ICAR has also developed technologies to prepare various types of organic manures like phospho-compost, vermicompost, municipal solid waste compost etc.
  • It is also developing improved and efficient strains of biofertilizers specific for different crops and soil types under the Network Project on biofertilizers.
  • ICAR, under the Network Project on Organic Farming, is also developing a set of organic farming practices in different agro-ecological regions in India.

Other facts:

  • India had, in the year 2015-16, produced over 1.35 million MT of certified organic products, including food products.
  • India has the highest number of organic producers among the 170 countries – about 30% of the total global organic producers.
  • Yet, it is ranked only ninth in terms of area under organic farming. India contributes only 2.59% of the land for organic farming.
  • It is the 11th largest exporter of organic produce in 2015.
  • Uttaranchal is the first state to set up an organic commodities board. It has also formed organic export zones by establishing bio-villages.
  • Madhya Pradesh has declared many of its villages as organic.

What can be the way forward?

  • Agro-tourism and other attractive endeavours can be made use of to promote organic farming techniques and products so that there is an increase in demands and returns for organic produce.
  • Retailing, packaging and labelling must be well-managed to increase the sales of organic products in the market.
  • India, with a large geographical area and diverse terrains, has a huge potential when it comes to organic farming.
  • However, the small farmers are facing issues while shifting to this new technique like limited resource availability, difficult certification process, lack of access to markets etc.
  • Thus, there is a need for cooperation from both the government and NGOs to promote it among the small farmers.

Sikkim – a case study:

  • In January 2016, Sikkim became India’s first “100% organic” state.
  • Currently, all farming in Sikkim is carried out without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, ensuring access to safer food choices and making agriculture an environmentally friendly activity.
  • The Sikkim government had promoted organic farming through various measures.
  • Sikkim Organic Mission (SOM) is the nodal agency established for the fast-track transition to organic farming in 2010.
  • Initially, the subsidy on chemical pesticide and fertilizers were reduced by 10% every year until it was completely banned in 2014.
  • It had also constructed about 6,526 rural compost pits and 3,877 vermicompost pits on people’s farms and the manure obtained from them is shared among farmers.
  • The SOM provided the farmers with inputs and training for maintaining these pits.
  • Additionally, to whatever extent possible, SOM distributes bio-inputs to farmers and they are expected to produce the rest themselves.
  • On November 2016, the survey conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that Sikkim farmers were facing difficulty while undertaking organic farming activities.
  • Some of the farmers found that since they had stopped using synthetic fertilizers, crop production has decreased and their susceptibility of crops to pest attacks has increased.
  • According to the survey conducted by the CSE, it was found that while the government-owned farms are well-stocked with bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, 7 of the 14 private farmers received neither of these inputs from the government.
  • It was also found that between 2010 and 2015, the outlay spent by the government to train farmers on organic farming was just 5% of the total Rs.54 crores expenditure.
  • The farmers were mostly faced with pest problems and the methods under the government training programme have proven to be ineffective while dealing with the pests.
  • Furthermore, neither the state nor SOM nor National Organic Research Institute (NOFRI), has the official data on the extent of pest attacks in the state.
  • It was also found that Sikkim’s organic tag has not ensured a higher price for organic produce. 8 out of 14 farmers surveyed by the CSE were not able to charge a premium price.
  • The reasons for this outcome are varied. Some blame the decline in the market prices while the others say that the organic produce commands a lower price than the conventional produce as it has a shorter shelf life.
  • According to the state policy, the organic crops are to be sold under the brand name “Sikkim Organic” in the markets.
  • Yet most of Sikkim’s organic food is not marketed and sold as organic produce.
  • There are no regulations on the food that comes from outside the state. Therefore the organic crops produced in Sikkim compete with cheaper conventional food that comes from West Bengal, leading to little to no profits for the Sikkim farmers.
  • There are two types of certification systems in India – Third-Party Certification, which is essential for exports, and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS ), meant only for the domestic sales.
  • While the former is an expensive affair, especially for an individual farmer, the PGS involves almost no cost at all.
  • Sikkim has spent an average of Rs.8,400 per ha for 3 years for the third-party certification and is expected to pay more for renewal of the certification.
  • The focus on certification has diverted the government’s attention from assisting farmers with organic inputs and necessary training.
  • The government has minimised the cost of certification by establishing its own certification agency – Sikkim State Organic Certification Agency (SSOCA).

CSE’s recommendations:

  • Sikkim must improve its organic farming policy and implementation.
  • Instead of spending a large amount of money on third-party certification, Sikkim should demarcate areas that are not expected to contribute to export and shift to PGS certification.
  • It must ensure that more training is provided for the farmers to help them sustain organic farming. This can be done by increasing the budget allocations to incorporate more training sessions for farmers and ensure more availability of bio-inputs.
  • The government must also support the farmers until they can manage their farms with the inputs produced in the farm itself.
  • It must also assess the performance of the policy to ascertain the limitations. This can be done through the collection of data on the frequency and nature of pest attacks. Based on the data, the government must provide solutions through greater research and development.
  • The government must also ensure that the farmers get the price the organic food deserves, even for fresh produce. The marketing of the product must be streamlined to enable the average consumer in Sikkim to access locally grown organic food.

Conclusion

Organic farming, despite being environmentally sustainable, is facing many challenges. Greater focus must be given in improving the methods used through increase research and technological development.

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What is organic farming? What are the challenges faced by the farmers while implementing it? (250 words)

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